How to avoid Tommy John surgery – Part 1  Comments (0)

Courtesy of MLB via Twitter

Courtesy of MLB via Twitter

During the first month of the Major League baseball season, seventeen MLB pitchers had (or will soon be having) their ulnar collateral ligament in their pitching arm reconstructed surgically. This procedure, commonly as “Tommy John” surgery, named after the first person to have this procedure in 1974. (My friend Brent Strom was the second.)

The 2014 season may well surpass 2012, when at 46 TJ surgeries were reported among Major League pitchers (as reported by

Why the huge increase in the number of these injuries? No one knows the all of the reasons, but the most basic answer is that parts of a body (or a machine) break when the workload exceeds the strength and readiness of the (body) part to handle that stress. There are many similarities when comparing a most peoples’ bodies, especially when they are younger. But over time, different genetics, different (offseason, preseason, and in-season) preparation and exercise activity, different nutrition, different rest patterns, different illnesses and injuries, different workloads and just plain randomness makes for different results.  Everyone’s body is unique and one of a kind.

You’d think that Major League Baseball teams, profitable businesses all worth hundreds of millions of dollars, would protect their most valuable assets, ones that have the most influence on whether they win or lose. After all, winning games means more fans, more people in seats, more food, drink, souvenirs and parking – overall a more valuable business. These professional pitchers are guided and watched, yet they keep breaking anyway.

MLB coaches and executives say it’s because of overuse at younger ages, lack of a good “lifting” program, poor mechanics, and lots of other reasons that have varying levels of truth to them. But the fact is there is no major league club really understands. There is no major league club that avoids the sting of TJ.

Parts of the elbow, including the three bands of the UCL.

Parts of the elbow, including the three bands of the UCL.

The UCL is small and not designed to create enough force to throw. Ligaments connect bones and stabilize joints. Muscles are larger and direct significant force in a direction – they are far better designed to do that than ligaments. So the more you learn to move in a way that uses your muscles rather than the ligaments to throw, the less likely you’ll rupture your UCL. This is frequently referred to as “mechanics,” but its more accurately should be called the art of movement efficiency.

Here are some principles that may help you avoid the plague of Tommy John surgery for your pitchers.

  • Strengthening the surrounding muscles and tissues with exercises helps them take on the workload of throwing. Most exercises should use several groups of muscles at once (as you do in throwing) and involve a rotational movement of your body (again, like throwing). This is integration of muscle groups, just like the sport, and is much more effective than isolation, as many lifting programs are structured.
  • Performing movements or exercises that give your joints greater freedom of movement then the energy you create be transferred more efficiently. Unfortunately, most people think stretches help open the joints, but most stretches you see typically just pull on tendons rather than opening your joints. Among several sources, I suggest you look into Z Health and several types of yoga.
  • Preparing each athlete with a throwing program is essential. So many pitching coaches feel that rest is the key factor in assuring pitching health. Do you think marathon runners are better able to complete a race if they sit four days in between training runs? Of course not. Pitchers need a throwing program that gives him a build-up of quantity of throws. A well thought out throwing program builds up a pitcher’s ability to throw a significant amount with most efficiency, makes them perform better and stay healthier.

Next time – specifics to help your pitchers avoid TJ and pitch better

Hot or cold, why practice matters  Comments (0)

All youth league baseball seasons have begun, even in the most northern areas of the country. In the warmer southern climates, the playoffs are just a short month away. No matter what stage of the season you’re in, you want to either get hot or stay hot as a ballplayer.

InfieldThrowLuck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity; that’s a quote from an ancient Roman philosopher named Seneca. What it means is that when the ball ball is pitched to you right down the middle of the plate when there are two runners on and your team is down by one in the last inning, you not only know what to do with the pitch, but you are confident that you can make something happen. That’s why practice is important.

Keep practicing. If you’re hitting the cover off the ball, you should keep hitting the ball as often as you can to stay sharp. If you haven’t been as successful as you’d like, then practice will sharpen your skills. The same with taking fly balls or ground balls. The professional shortstops that I’ve admired most are the ones that take 100 ground balls (half to their glove side, and half to their arm side) every day. And as far as throwing / pitching, as long as you’re not performing that at 100% intensity every day for all throws, you will get more accurate and stronger by throwing.

Kid_fieldingPlayers, parents, and coaches want more games. Games are the performance, like the school play or the concert. Imagine how many times that violinist practiced that piece and compare it to the number of concerts in which he or she gets to play it for an audience. We don’t seem to have that level of commitment or patience in sports, and maybe it doesn’t need quite that ratio. But whenever the ratio of practice to performance is higher, you get more success.

The game (or the concert) is normally more fun than practice. But no one gets better in games. You don’t get enough chances to handle the ball during the game, with the exception of the pitcher. And even the pitcher is concerned with controlling the game (and their opponent) more than working on a changeup or a different pitch. So practice.

Catcher_throwdown_practiceOne more thing on practice. The legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” This has been co-opted by baseball coaches at all levels; I’ve heard the legendary Ripken brothers use it many times. But I submit to you that there is no such thing as a perfect practice. It’s impossible because I haven’t met any perfect coaches, never seen a perfect practice plan, and even if those existed there are no perfect ballplayers. So let’s get real.

And practice does not make permanent either. Because humans constantly change and adapt and become more or less adept at tasks over time. However, practice absolutely does make for habits and tendencies, good or bad. So practice good habits.

You can find a nice selection of videos, training aids, and even a book to help you run practices that are more fun, effective at

Brainteaser Answers and Tips for Parents  Comments (0)

I really appreciate all of the interest and energy so many of you put into the Tips from the Coach Brainteaser Challenge. It was this…

“There are seven ways a baseball player can legally reach first base in a game without getting a hit. Taking a base-on-balls is one way. Name the other six.”

IMG_0134Well, actually, Coach Bill gave me some more options than I knew.

1. Dropped third strike
2. Hit by pitch
3. Error
4. A fielder’s choice
5. Catcher’s interference
6. Fielder’s obstruction
7. Being inserted as a pinch runner

And there is one rare but absolutely legit way to reach first. That’s on a “catcher’s balk,” which occurs when the catcher does not stay in the catcher’s box until the pitcher delivers the ball.

Thanks to everyone who participated on our Facebook page.


I came across a list of Top Ten Tips for Sports Parents. I worked on it a long time ago, and after updating it I thought I’d share it with you.

GBR:  FA Respect Pr Shoot - Ray Winstone 23/02/20091. Parents need to practice and display control. As a parent, there are times I’m sure you’d like to jump up and protect your son if he gets cleated covering second base or run into when catching. We must anticipate that these situations are out of our control. How gracefully and maturely we deal with the, however, are in our control.

2. The focus of youth sports should be the life lessons learned from the athletic experience. These include the value of working together as a team, the short term goals of practices or games, learning the discipline necessary to master a technique. These are the true value of youth sports.

3. The support and encouragement of your ballplayer should be your most important goal. Everybody, including young athletes, respond favorably to positive feedback.

4. Understand that youth sports can be both extremely fulfilling and extremely stressful for your ballplayer. When high school, college, Olympic and professional athletes are asked to speak to audiences, about 70% of them mention their youth sports experiences. Also, a few years ago when the heart rates of 12-year-old players in the Little League World Series were batting, heart rates increased to as much as 168 bpm.

5. Educate yourself on the physical and emotional development of your young athlete. Don’t underestimate the limits of youngsters at different stages in their development. This is important as well when coaching or teaching.

dad-teaching-baseball16. Use “Sport For Life” as a theme for your young ballplayer’s sports experience. This is a mantra used in academic physical education. It refers to the lifelong health benefits of athletic involvement versus the status that participation provides today.

7. Teamwork is a life skill. Perhaps the greatest life skill that we learn from sports is how to work well with others. As parents, don’t undermine this by voicing your opinion about one athlete compared to another.

8. Citizenship. The responsibilities of teamwork directly relate to those of citizenship.

9. Equality of opportunity. Sports has displayed many examples of inequality of opportunity due to race (Jackie Robinson), economic level (boxer Joe Frazier), caste or status, and gender. It shows that with real hard work, you can sometimes overcome life’s inequities. Sports can be an equalizer.

10. The primary model for your young athlete is you. You should never forget that you are modelling your behavior and more than likely they will grow up doing what they were shown to be acceptable behavior.